Glacier Bay National Park is one of many gems on the string of breathtaking sights in Alaska’s Inside Passage. Most people who make a trip will do so as part of an Alaska cruise. Those cruise itineraries typically include a stop at Icy Strait Point, a locally-owned and operated cruise port near the small community of Hoonah. From here, you can set out on one of several Icy Strait Point excursions that take you into Glacier Bay – but how do you choose which one to book?
If you’re struggling to choose between Icy Strait Point shore excursions, I’m here to help. I spent three summers (2005-2007) working for one of the major cruise companies. During that time I had to make recommendations for excursions for thousands of Alaska cruisers. So I decided to use that knowledge to come up with a list of the best Icy Strait Point excursions.
I put these Icy Strait Point cruise excursions in the order based on what I know Alaska visitors will love. I also keep in mind some of the other tips on choosing Alaska cruise excursions I’ve previously shared. For each excursion, I list which cruise companies offer that one – so you can see whether your cruise is on the list. Read on for the best Icy Strait Point excursions for your upcoming Alaska cruise.
While I personally do not support the mega-ship cruise industry due to its negative impact on local economies, damage caused to the environment, and evasive tax practices, I created this resource to allow you to make your own choice. Please consider booking a small-ship cruise instead, carbon offsetting, and buying local souvenirs to help reduce the negative impact of your Alaska cruise.
This post was originally published in March 2020, and was updated in May 2021.
Planning an Alaska Cruise in 2021
With the passage of The Alaska Tourism Restoration Act, Alaska cruise lines are planning to resume cruises as early as mid-July 2021. Here are the cruise lines and their planned first sailings:
- Royal Caribbean – July 19
- Celebrity Cruises – July 23
- Holland America – July 24
- Princess Cruises – July 25
- Carnival Cruises – July 27
- Norwegian Cruise Line – August 7
Each of these companies requires proof of vaccination, and most make stops at Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, and some also stop at Icy Point Strait and visit Glacier Bay National Park. You will see these companies listed below on each excursion they offer (as well as others who will resume cruises in 2022).
The Best Icy Strait Point Cruise Excursions
Given how many cruise companies offer a number of interesting and unique shore excursions in Icy Strait Point, it was hard to choose which ones to recommend. But, I’ve weighed the options and consider these nine to be the best Icy Strait Point and Hoonah cruise excursions.
1. Glacier Bay Flightseeing
What makes Icy Strait Point a port worth visiting is obviously its proximity Glacier Bay National Park. And what better way to see Glacier Bay than on a flightseeing tour? You already know that I recommend flightseeing tours as part of my tips for choosing Alaska cruise excursions. Flightseeing tours are usually more expensive on a cost-per-hour basis. But, because their experience is impossible to replicate, I usually consider them worth it.
On this specific excursion, you’ll fly from Hoonah across Point Adolphus, over Glacier Bay, and along Brady Glacier. You’ll get to see a massive ice cap, learn about the geomorphology that formed Glacier Bay, and try to spot whales on the waterways below you during the flight. This is a breathtaking way to see Glacier Bay – and why it’s the best Icy Strait Point cruise excursion.
2. Spasski River Valley Wildlife & Bear Search
Wildlife is one of the main draws for visitors who want to cruise in Alaska. Unfortunately, the biggest ships have a tendency to scare off a lot of the wildlife you hope to see. To increase your chances, you need to get off the big boat, get on two feet, and get out in the Alaska wild.
This excursion is a gentle walking tour that lasts 2.5 to 3 hours depending on the wildlife you see. After a short bus ride to the Spasski River Valley, you’ll take a guided tour along a boardwalk and gravel path into a habitat that Alaskan brown bear are known to frequent. There’s no guarantee, of course, but that’s part of what makes the excursion an adventure! You can potentially also see bald eagles, Sitka black-tailed deer, and otters.
3. In Alaska’s Wildest Kitchen
Foodie cruisers, this one’s for you! I try to include a food tour on every one of the posts in this series; I believe food is one of the best ways to experience culture.
This excursion you’ll sample some of the food Alaskans love to enjoy, learn from a local chef about how to filet and prepare fresh Alaskan seafood, and then try your hand preparing some for yourself. As a souvenir, you’ll get recipe cards so you can try to prepare these meals once you return home.
4. Hoonah Sightseeing & Tribal Dance
The hardest part of each list of the best Alaska cruise excursions that I write is putting them in an order to help you choose. After all, some Alaska visitors love the epic sweeping views, some prefer wildlife viewing, some want food, others culture, and still others need an adrenaline rush… Like I said, ranking is hard!
So if the first few of the Icy Strait Point excursions I’ve recommended didn’t really ring true to you, maybe this one will. This Hoonah Sightseeing and Tribal Dance excursion is perfect for those who want to immerse themselves in Alaskan native culture. If you’ve planned an excursion like this elsewhere on your tour, you’ll soon see that there are some similarities but also the unique aspects of each community.
Learn about the Tlingit people and their history in the region, then enjoy a performance of a tribal dance and explanation of cultural legends. (This excursion is also great for all ages!)
5. Heli, Bike & Hike Adventure
At this point in most Alaska cruise excursions, you’ve had a few days on the boat. You probably need to burn off a few of those ‘unlimited drinks’ or specialty dining meals, right? This is the excursion to help keep you feeling health and well!
On this 2- to 3-hour excursion, you’ll board a helicopter, cruise up to the top of mountain, unload your bikes, and ride back down. Along the way, most guides stop to take you on short hikes for even better views. It’ll be hard to keep your eyes on the trail with all the epic scenery around you!
6. Adventure Park & ZipRider Combo
Zip-lining is so in right now!
I mean, you can zip-line in many ports around the world, so is it any surprise that there’s an epic zip-lining experience in Alaska? Or that it’s the largest in the world – kind of like Alaska is the largest state?
This is a four-hour excursion that includes an obstacle course – dubbed the ‘Adventure Park,’ – made up of a log bridge, climbing planks, fishermen’s net, and more. After you successfully conquer that, you’ll hook into the first of six zip-lines. You’ll descend from an elevation of 1,330 feet back to sea level along those six zips – at times you may be going as fast as 60 miles per hour and at heights of 300 feet above the ground!
(This Icy Strait Point excursion is not for those who are faint of heart or afraid of heights!)
7. Chichagof Island Wilderness Hike
Alaska is full of epic hikes, and you might want to experience some of that for yourself on your Alaska cruise. The Chichagof Island wilderness hike excursion is a good opportunity. After a drive through (and out of) town, you’ll leave the crowds behind and head onto Alaska native-owned lands where you’ll disembark and start your wilderness hike. The trail is a moderate 2-mile hike that includes panoramic views of Chichagof Island and the surrounding waterways.
8. Halibut Fishing
I get a lot of questions about fishing in Alaska. So, when I see a good Alaska cruise excursion for fishing, I recommend it! Typically, I recommend halibut fishing charters in Seward, but if your itinerary doesn’t allow that, here’s an alternative.
On this 3.5-hour charter, you’ll board a locally-operated boat and head out onto the waters of Icy Strait. Purchase your fishing license, put your line in, and hope for good fishermen’s luck! If you do have the fortune to hook a halibut, the boat company will ship it home to you.
9. Discovering Birds of Hoonah
For the last of the Icy Strait Point excursions I recommend, I’ve decided to tip my hand and reveal my true nerdiness. (After all, I say hi to my local crows and put out plants specifically for hummingbirds… I’m a covert birder! ?)
If you are less-than-covert about birding, book this excursion. A local guide will take you out to spot dozens of species of perching birds, seabirds, ducks, gulls, and bald eagles. You’ll be provided with binoculars and other gear you might need. And best of all: the proceeds of this excursion support the Juneau Audubon Society.
Which of these Icy Strait Point excursions will you book? If you have questions or comments, let me know below or join me in my Alaska Travel Tips Facebook Community!
Keep Planning Your Alaska Cruise!
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Photo credits: Icy Strait Point building (L) – Moira Dunworth; Glacier Bay flightseeing (R) – Joseph; salmon on grill – Didriks; Tlingit tribal dance – James Brooks; halibut fisherman – Bryan Wilkins; all via Flickr